Mylapore Temples Walk

This walk was by Dr. Chithra Madhavan and it was organized by ‘Namma Mylapore’ on 7th March, 2010. Srinivasa Perumal, Kesava Perumal, Kapaleeswarar, Mundagakanni Amman, Madhava Perumal, Karaneeswarar and Virupaksheeswarar temples were the temples that were covered in this walk. History, architecture, sculptures and inscriptions were the focus of this walk. So, we didn’t see the main deities in most of the temples.

Chitrakulam – The Starting Point

The walk started at 6:30 am from the Gandhi Statue near ChitrakuLam. We walked to Kesava Perumal temple from there, going around the tank in clockwise direction. A beautiful cluster of pink water lilies were in full bloom in Chitra kuLam.

Mylapore – An old area

The fact that Mylapore has been in existence since thousands of years ago is evident from its finding a mention in the works of Ptolemy, the Roman traveller and Tirumangai Azhwar, one of the 12 AzhwArs. Tirumangai Azhwar mentions it along with Tiruvelikeni (Triplicane) while writing about Parthasarathy Swami temple. Mylapore also happens to be the birth place of another AzhwAr, Pei Azhwar.

Srinivasa Perumal & Kesava Perumal temples, as you might know, are adjacent to each other. Standing outside these temples, we heard Chithra speak about these temples and also about the various parts of a temple.

A typical temple

garbagriham/sanctum sanctorum houses the main deity. The structure over the garbagriham is known as vimAnam and not gOpuram. garbagriham is connected to a manDapam in front of it through a passage called antarAlA. The manDapam is called ardha manDapam. ardha manDapam is followed by another manDapam called mukha manDapam.

gOpuram is the structure at the entrance(s) of the temple. It was only from the times of Pallava that gOpurams were built.

Most of the old temples usually have tanks. Tanks were generally dug for the purpose of soil testing.

Srinivasa Perumal Temple

gOpuram and vimAnam:

This is a vaDakalai temple and it is not more than 100 yrs old. We didn’t go inside this temple.

Kesava Perumal Temple

This tenkalai temple is about 350-400 yrs old. But it is only the temple structure as such that can be dated to that time period. The mUlavar (main idol) might be older than that.

The gOpuram of this temple, though not belonging to the Vijayanagara period, is based on Vijayanagar style of architecture. While the base is made of granite, the top portion is made of brick and stucco.

As you enter the temple, a sculpture of a lady with creepers going from her hands is present on both sides. They are those of Ganga and Yamuna. Since rivers are a sign of prosperity, these sculptures are present. They also symbolize washing our feet in the holy waters of Ganga and Yamuna as we enter the temple.

pushpa pOdigai (flower corbels) are present in the ceiling of the entrance gateway:

Sculptures of Ganga and Yamuna and pushpa pOdigais belong to typical Vijayanagara style of architecture.

Ganga and Yamuna and the dwArapAlakAs:

The presiding deities of this temple are Kesava perumAL and Mayuravalli tAyAr. We saw the vishwarUpa darsanam of tAyAr.

After Kesava Perumal temple, our next destination was Kapaleeswarar temple.

Kapaleeswarar Temple

As most of you might know, the place where Kapaleeswarar temple is there today is not its original location. It was originally on the seashore. It was only about 350 years back that this temple moved to its current location, which was originally a temple of Muruga. And that is said to be a reason why the vimAnam of the shrine of Muruga here is taller than that of Kapaleeswarar. There are inscriptions on the walls of the sanctum sanctorum of Karpgambal which can be dated to 12th to 13th century AD. These are the walls which were taken from the original temple. While the sannidhi of Kapaleeswarar is now west-facing, in the earlier temple, it was east-facing.

Kapaleeswarar temple is one of the pADal peRRa sthalams. Other seashore Shiva temples in Chennai, namely, Marundeeswarar (Tiruvanmiyur) and Tiruvotriyur are also pADal peRRa sthalams.

The story about how Thirugnanasambandhar brought back Poombavai, the daughter of a Shiva devotee Sivanesa Chettiar, to life was narrated by Chithra. You can read the story here. There is a separate sannidhi for Poombavai in Kapaleeswarar temple.

The main gOpuram of this temple is also based on Vijayanagara architectural style. This too has the sculptures of Ganga and Yamuna and flower corbels.

The base of the gOpuram has some sculptures similar to the one shown below. I had taken this photo at Varaha temple in Srimushnam. I am using it here since I don’t have a separate photo of these in Kapaleeswarar temple. These are called kUDu and KumbhapanchAra and the niches in between are called kOshTA. These too belong to Vijayanagara architectural style.

The gOpuram has lots of beautiful sculptures made of stucco. Stucco sculptures are usually made beforehand and then placed in gOpuram. Wouldn’t that have been difficult to do!

Stucco sculpture of Viswamitra and Menaka:

Each row of the southern side of the gOpuram has a sculpture of Dakshinamurty, each in a different pose.

The sculpture that you see below is found in most of the gOpuram generally. These are the load bearers who are supposed to be holding the temples.

Load bearers on the gOpuram of Kesava Perumal temple:

The famous tEr of this temple is made of iluppai wood and it has lots of wooden sculptures. iluppai wood is used because it secretes some oil which protects itself.

The tank of Kapaleeswarar temple was built by the Nawab of Arcot.

A temple is considered to be fit for worship only if it has kalasams. A gOpuram has odd number of kalasams as well as stories. kalasams are usually made of hollow brass and they act as lightning conductors.

The authenticity of the following information about kalasams has not been verified: Before installing it in the temple, it is said to be stuffed with rice and grains. During every kumbhAbhishEkam of the temple, the insides of the kalasams are checked and the rice and grains that were stuffed earlier are found to be charred.

Chithra mentioned something about padma & shankha nidhi. I don’t remember what it was.

The sculpture below is known as a kIrti mukha. This is present in the top of halo of every deity. You will generally find it in all the temples.

Mundagakanni Amman Temple

This temple is a good example of how the worship of Amman was integrated into mainstream religion now called Hinduism.

Madhava Perumal Temple

It is here that the Lord married Lakshmi, the daughter of Brigu.

The manDapam in front of the temple had some beautiful sculptures of the dasAvatArams:

Ceiling of the manDapam:

There are a lot of sculptures on the pillars in the mandapam in front of the garbagriham.

sEshAsanA Vishnu (Vishnu sitting on a snake) & Trivikrama:

This kind of sculptures which show only the front side of an idol are known as bas-relief sculptures. Sculptures which show an idol fully are called ‘sculptures in the round’.

This temple now has a separate shrine/sannidhi for Varaha. But till a year or so back, the idol of Varaha was just on a step near the tank. Special poojas are performed for this Varaha during the board examination time.

Karaneeswarar Temple

This temple can be dated to the Chola period and is almost 1000 years old! kumbAbhishekam of this temple happened very recently. The main gOpuram was built only during the previous kumbhAbhishekam.

The main gOpurams are called rAja gOpurams. This is because the gOpurams of many temples were usually built by the Rayas of Vijayanagara dynasty. And hence they have the name rAya/rAja gOpurams.

Sculpture of Dakshinamurty above His shrine and gajasamhAramUrty on the gOpuram:

Karaneeswarar temple had lots of inscriptions belonging to the Chola period. These were in the Chola Tamil script which can be dated to the time of King Vikramachola. Unfortunately, the inscriptions are not there anymore. Those got damaged when the temple was renovated a few years back. 🙁 Plastering the walls with granite slabs or painting them causes permanent damage to the inscriptions. A few places on the walls have traces of the inscriptions.

The inscriptions were, thankfully, recorded by ASI before this happened. Many of the inscriptions talked about the donations that the kings made to the temple. (I have noted down something about a perpetual lamp. If my memory serves me right, I guess Chithra said that one of the inscriptions mentioned about some king’s donation which would be used for lighting the lamps in the temple).

A sculpture belonging to the Chola period: (on the outer side of the wall of the main sanctum)

Virupaksheeswarar Temple

This is also an ancient Chola temple and this too, at one point of time, had lots of inscriptions about the grants made by the kings to the temple. While the walls of Karaneeswarar temple at least have a few traces of the inscriptions left, this temple doesn’t even have that.

The presiding deities of this temple are Virupaksheeswarar (virUpa means distorted/strange and it refers to the third eye of Shiva) and Visalakshi. Here, a Nandi is present in front of the ambAL too.

This temple has a tank:

But what you see above is only half of the tank that was originally there. Buildings have been constructed over the other half! Look at what a bad state whatever remains of the tank too is in. It seems the tank was completely cleaned a few years back. But even after that, the people in the neighbouring buildings continue to use it as their garbage dumping yard!

Some sculptures:

There are temples for Virupaksheeswarar in Hampi and Pattadakkal (in Karnataka) too. And incidentally it is the only temple in active worship in both these places.

The walk ended at Virupaksheeswarar temple. 3 hours seemed to have just flown by! As always, it was great hearing Chithra talk so passionately about the temples and their architectural details. Informative and interesting, as always! Looking forward to more such walks!

Click here for the entire set of photos.

7 thoughts on “Mylapore Temples Walk

  1. mani

    great blogs. i happened to stumble across it owing to a friend SV at facebook who had linked this article there. did’nt know such interesting things happen. would have loved to be a part of such a walk. have heard n read about these type fo walks in various forums. in btw, i also ran thru a few of other ones from you. great ones. keep up the good work. and do let me know if there are simialr walks coming up in the near future and if am in town, i wud luv to join. and if u r in FB, let me know, wud like to add u as a friend there.


    happy blogging.


    a nice guy 2 know

  2. Hariharan

    Hi Aparna,

    This is a very interesting concept … I would try and catch a “walk” when I come to Chennai ….

    Thanks for sharing this … Great photos and write-up !!


  3. parantharami mani


    The gopuram of kesava perumal temple was built in the 1950s and it was dedicated by the then Hon.Minister of Madras state Shri.Bakthavatsalam.


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